Election 2020: Greens call for sustainable agriculture
The Green Party wants the country's farmers to pivot towards sustainable, regenerative agriculture and hopes to put a levy on polluting fertilisers, Marc Daalder reports
The latest Green Party policy release involves a promise of nearly $300 million for sustainable agriculture, as well as pledges to clean up waterways and strengthen country-of-origin labelling.
The policy comes after co-leader James Shaw indicated he would want a Green Party member to be agriculture minister in the next government.
"Some of the country’s best farmers are already leading the way toward climate-friendly practices," Shaw said at the announcement on Saturday morning.
"But we must do more to support all farmers and growers to transition away from intensive farming practices which harm our environment. By making smart decisions now, we can build a thriving farming sector that is good for farmers, good for people and good for the planet."
A pivot to sustainable agriculture
The headline policy is a $297 million "Health Food and Farming Fund" which, when added to the $700 million promised to farmers by the current Government to help them implement new freshwater rules, "will help farmers make the right changes to suit their farms, get the best out of their land, and reduce their impact on the climate and waterways," according to the policy document.
"Farming for the Future will transform how we farm and grow food in New Zealand, by giving farmers and growers the tools they need to lead climate solutions," Shaw said.
He envisaged the plan playing out via the metaphor of a dairy farmer named Tom, who shifts to a mix of crops and cows. Over time, he goes fully organic and a decade later, he still owns a small herd of cows but also produces apples, olives and eggs.
"He’s proud of his farm, and so are his kids – who are excited to keep experimenting to get the most out of their land while protecting the environment surrounding it," Shaw said of the fictional dairy farmer.
The money would be made available over the next three years and is already earmarked for specific projects. The bulk of it would be repurposed from the Government's existing Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures Fund.
That includes $145 million in grants for regenerative farming projects, $40 million for Māori agricultural organisations to develop sustainable practices and $50 million for the setting up of plant-based food processing and production facilities as the sector moves away from meat and dairy towards horticulture.
Another $15 million would be put towards an "organic farming centre of excellence", likely in conjunction with Lincoln or Massey University.
To further encourage sustainable agriculture, a new government-backed sustainability accreditation would be created and awarded to farmers and growers who commit to meeting environmental standards and prove they can do so through Farm Environment Plans.
Country-of-origin labelling would be expanded to tinned fruit and vegetables, frozen mixed veggies and some meat products which are currently exempted, making it easier for people to buy local. The government itself would also be pushed to buy local, through the creation of targets for procurement of locally-produced products and working with departments, District Health Boards and other public sector agencies to purchase local food, fibre and timber.
Forestry operators would also be encouraged to diversify their plantations, with more indigenous species and a greater focus on "resilient forest ecosystems". This could be done via changing settings of the One Billion Trees programme, removing permanent non-indigenous forests from the ETS and overhauling the National Environmental Standard for Plantation Forestry.
An eye on the climate too
The Greens also have their eyes on ameliorating the climate impacts of agriculture. While agriculture isn't slated to enter the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) - which puts a price on every tonne of greenhouse gases emitted - until 2025, the sector has agreed to begin reducing emissions and prepare for the entry over the coming years.
If the Climate Change Commission finds progress has been insufficient thus far, the Greens say they would immediately bring agriculture into the ETS at the processor level - so dairy and meat processing facilities would be responsible for paying the carbon charges, not individual farmers. Because these processors already track their industrial emissions, this could be actioned relatively quickly, according to the policy document.
The new agricultural pricing scheme would be granted a 90 percent discount on paying for emissions but, like other emissions-intensive industries, this discount would be progressively removed over the next three decades.
"The reality is that the way we currently farm is accelerating climate change," Shaw said.
"Intensive agriculture has become the norm, even though we know it has dire consequences."
The Greens also hope to take aim at nitrogen-based fertilisers, which contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and incentivise the intensification of dairying, which in turn contributes further to emissions. This would be done through setting a nationwide limit on dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN), a common pollutant in waterways that the Government's Freshwater Independent Advisory Panel couldn't agree on regulations for.
While that panel is set to report back next year after another round of deliberation, the Greens say they would set a limit of 1 milligram per litre regardless. They would also progressively reduce the cap on nitrogen fertiliser use introduced in the new freshwater regulations, down to 150 kilograms per hectare in the next two years and by another 10 kilograms per hectare for every year afterwards. This policy would be reviewed every five years.
The remainder of the new $300 million would be funded by the third policy plank for limiting fertiliser use - a 2 cents per litre levy on nitrogen- and phosphorous-based fertilisers.
Shaw said the levy would work out to an extra $1500 a year for the average dairy farm and $1200 for the average sheep farm.
The Greens have also returned to core agricultural issues, including a promise of "fair charges for commercial water users" and a host of animal welfare policies. This includes the phase out of farrowing crates, a ban on the export of live animals for breeding and the establishment of a Minister or Associate Minister for Animal Welfare position.
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